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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Greens criticise Tories for "playing politics with children’s futures"

The Green Party has criticised Education Secretary Nicky Morgan for 'playing political games with children’s futures' as she announced government plans to change the criteria for “coasting” schools. Previously schools where at least 40% of pupils were achieving five A*-C grades at GCSE fell into that category but plans announced today by the Education Secretary will see that raised to 60%, meaning more schools will become subject to government intervention and likely turned over to academy status.

The Green Party say they strongly believe that education policy should be about giving teachers autonomy to teach, and ensuring that schools are run for the best interests of pupils, not committing to an ideology which is damaging children’s education.

Green Party schools spokesperson, Samantha Pancheri, said: "This ploy of redefining criteria to distort public perception of a situation is becoming a common tactic from the Conservatives. It is telling that, even in the government’s own terms, the academies programme has failed to provide the promised solution for struggling schools, as the evidence clearly demonstrates that academies do not show improved exam results at any higher a rate than schools which remain under the local authority."

Ms Pancheri continued: "In another triumph of political ideology over evidence-based policy, Nicky Morgan is playing games with children’s futures as the government sinks to new depths to defend their dreadful record on education reforms. It is abundantly clear that the Conservatives have little respect for the diverse nature of teaching, and the widespread ways in which a child’s life can be positively impacted by a supportive learning environment."

"This does an enormous disservice to teachers already struggling to meet arbitrary targets and will only exacerbate the culture of teaching to the test. We must move education back to being pupil and teacher-centred, with accountability at the most local and democratic level." Samantha Pancheri added.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Ofcom: Call charges clearer from Wednesday

The biggest change to telephone calls in years will take place on Wednesday, affecting 175m phone numbers. From 1 July, all Freephone numbers which begin 0800 or 0808 will become free for consumers to call from all phones, whether mobile or landline. In addition, landline and mobile charges will become clearer for calls to service numbers starting 084, 087, 09 and 118. People use these ‘service numbers’ every day for finding out information, contacting a business or helpline, or using competition, directory-enquiry, entertainment and voting services. 

Ofcom research shows that every year, callers in the UK spend a total of 250m hours calling these service numbers, spending around £900m between them. Until now, callers to these numbers have not generally been told by the service provider how much they will be charged. But under changes brought in as part of UK Calling, prices will be clearer on telephone bills, in marketing materials and in advertising.

From Wednesday, charges for service numbers will be made up of an ‘access charge’ going to the phone company, plus a ‘service charge’ set by the company or organisation being called. Phone companies are responsible for setting their access charge, making it clear to consumers on their bills and informing new customers of the charge when they sign up to a contract. Separately, the service provider - the party being contacted - will be required to specify its service charge wherever it advertises or communicates the phone number.

From Wednesday, consumers will be able to:
  • know that when they call a Freephone number from a consumer mobile the call will be free;
  • understand the exact cost of making a call to a service number call by adding the access and service charges together;
  • compare the prices of different service providers more easily; and
  • choose a provider with a competitive access charge when signing up to a new landline or mobile deal.

What callers will see. Previously, callers have been given information such as:

“Calls cost xp per minute from a BT landline. Calls may vary from other landlines and calls from mobiles may cost considerably more.”

Under the new system, the cost of calls will be explained in a simpler format such as:

“Calls cost xp per minute, plus your phone company’s access charge.”

With service number charges being made clearer, many organisations that used 084 and 087 numbers in the past are moving, or have already moved, to using an 03 number. Calls to 03 numbers cost no more than calls to geographic 01 and 02 numbers and are now used by most government departments, major banks, public bodies and not-for-profit organisations. Also as part of UK Calling on Wednesday, calls to Freephone numbers (beginning 0800 and 0808) will become free for consumers to call from mobile phones, just as they generally are from landlines.

Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: "UK Calling is the biggest change to telephone calls in over a decade. Together we spend around £900 million a year calling service numbers, so it’s important that people understand the cost before they pick up the phone. Callers will be able to see what they’re paying and where their money is going. You can visit ukcalling.info for more information on the changes, and what they mean for you."

Senior Greens to stand down from GLA next year

Baroness Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson, the Green Party’s two current members of the Greater London Assembly (GLA), have confirmed that they will not be seeking re-election next May as nominations for candidates to take their places close today. With nominations to be the Green Party’s Mayoral and Assembly candidates closing, and after 16 years’ service as Assembly Members, Jones and Johnson have decided to step down from their roles. The candidates hoping to fill their shoes will be announced on Wednesday 8th July.

Commenting on her decision Baroness Jenny Jones said: "Having Greens on the London Assembly from its beginning means that the issues of environmental and social justice could not be ignored, by the Mayor of the day nor by the other political parties. We were the first to promote cycling, the first to mention air pollution, and the first to come out against water cannon. The result is that the Assembly’s stance on issues like climate change, civil liberties and economic reality is much greener than other local or regional authority bodies. We have greened London government, to the benefit of all Londoners."

Also commentating Darren Johnson said:"By next May I will have served a sixteen year stretch and look forward to handing over to a brand new Green Party team at City Hall. In spite of being a Group of two on the Assembly and in spite of the Assembly's limited powers, I'm immensely proud to have played a role in things like getting damaging roadbuilding plans scrapped, getting the UK's first ever same-sex partnership registration established, getting the London Living Wage established and getting cycling investment to figure seriously in Transport for London's budget."

Caroline Allen, Co-Chair of the London Green Party, said: "On behalf of the London Green Party I pass on huge thanks and gratitude to Jenny and Darren for all that they have done to further the Green cause in the capital and to represent us on the London Assembly. From helping to deliver the living wage to securing cross-party support for Low Emissions Zones to being the first to introduce a scheme for civil partnerships, Jenny and Darren have helped make London a fairer and healthier place to live."

"And it is because of their work and the causes that they have championed that we are now in such a strong position to launch our next campaign for Mayor and the Assembly. Today we close nominations for next May’s election. Thanks to the reputation Darren and Jenny leave behind, we head into this election on a high, knowing that we can put in our strongest ever challenge for Mayor and with the opportunity to increase our share of the seats on the Assembly." Ms Allen added.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

72% British Jews would like a ban on peaceful antisemitic demonstrations in Jewish areas.

Survation, on behalf of The Jewish Chronicle, have conducted a new poll which found that an overwhelming majority of British Jews would like a ban on peaceful antisemitic demonstrations in Jewish areas. The poll, conducted using a panel of the GB Jewish population, also found that where antisemitic rallies do take place, counter-demonstrations would be backed by a majority of the Jewish community. The Jewish Chronicle's take on the findings can be read here.

Key findings:
  • Nearly three quarters (72%) of British Jews believe that antisemitic groups should not be permitted to stage peaceful demonstrations in Jewish areas.
  • A firm majority (62%) of the Jewish community believe that Jewish people should hold counter-demonstrations to antisemitic rallies.
  • Asked whether Islamist Extremists or Neo-Nazis were feared the most by British Jews, three in five people (61%) said that they were most concerned by Islamist Extremists with only 16% saying that they were most concerned by Neo-Nazis. 
  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the Jewish community believe that Holocaust denial should be a criminal offence in the UK.

Survation interviewed 1,023 Jewish adults aged 18+ between 17th-23rd June 2015. The survey was generally conducted via telephone, but additional respondents were invited to take part via email invitation. Full tables are available here.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Lib Dems attack ' blinkered Tory approach' to drugs

The Liberal Democrats have today attacked the 'blinkered Tory approach' to drugs policy as they tabled a series of amendments to the Psychoactive Substances Bill in the House of Lords. The party is calling on the Conservatives to delay new laws until a full review is carried out into how existing legislation is failing to stop the harm caused by drugs. Liberal Democrats say they are urging the Tories to build on the health-based approach to drugs misuse championed by the Liberal Democrats in coalition and abandon their failing ‘get tough’ policies.

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Brian Paddick, who has tabled the amendments, is calling for:
  • the Government to delay moves to ban legal highs until an independent, evidence-based review of existing laws is carried out, allowing proper drafting of the legislation
  • the decriminalisation of possession of all drugs for personal use
  • the legalisation of medicinal use of cannabis when it is prescribed by a doctor

Lord Paddick said: "These new psychoactive substances - or legal highs - only exist because our current approach to drugs is failing. Instead of tackling the danger of these new drugs, this Bill is likely to make things worse. When I was a police officer, I realised that locking up drug users is simply not the answer. We have to learn the lessons of why our current approach is failing before we make the same mistakes with new psychoactive substances as we have done with other illegal drugs.

Talking about the strain on police resources Lord Paddick said: "Decriminalising personal possession will free up vital police resources to go after drug dealers, ensure addicts get treatment and social users get the education they need to keep them safe. Liberal Democrats are the only party prepared to tackle the harm drugs cause, while Labour and Tory Parties pointlessly seek to look tougher on crime without addressing the real issues."

In relation to medicinal cannabis, Lord Paddick added: "There can be absolutely no justification for serious ill people, prescribed medicine by a doctor, to be forced to become drug smugglers. We cannot continue to have a situation where people are forced to go to Holland to get prescriptions filled, and risk having their medicine seized at the border. We aren’t talking about fake prescriptions for those wishing to get high. We are talking about properly prescribed doses of pain relief for those with serious conditions. The Government needs to justify why these people shouldn’t be given access to the treatment they need."

Greens attack the Tories’ ‘war on welfare’

Green Party Work and Pensions spokesperson Jonathan Bartley has launched a blistering attack on the government’s “war on welfare”, accusing the Tories of “kicking people when they are down”. The attack came in response to a speech by David Cameron on welfare.

Jonathan Bartley said: "The Conservative war on welfare is incoherent, misguided and based on ideology rather than reality. Welfare is an investment which helps people to build a decent life, not something that 'papers over the cracks with a veneer of fairness'. The social security of millions is being threatened in a way we haven't seen since the modern welfare state was set up. The best way to help people into work is to support them, not kick them when they are down. Conservative sanctions are creating barriers and making it harder, not easier, to find a job. These sanctions should be scrapped, not extended to those claiming tax credits."

Continuing his attack on the Tories, Mr Bartlett said: "Cutting tax credits would take away a crucial lifeline which enables many people to stay in work, while the shambolic new Universal Credit system also has an in-built disincentive to work. For every £100 someone on Universal Credit earns, £65 of support is lost. If the government wants to make work pay it should make the minimum wage a Living Wage. Not only would this save £2.4bn in tax credits, it would also raise £1.5bn in tax revenues. Reducing the pernicious household benefit cap and closing the Independent Living Fund places the burden of the government’s austerity programme on the shoulders of the most vulnerable. Such cuts are another example of the government failing the disabled, as just 9% of participants on the ill-conceived work programme ever find work."

"Short of creating an ‘opportunity society’, Conservative cuts will plunge more people into destitution, remove vital support and create additional costs elsewhere, which already squeezed local authorities and voluntary agencies such as foodbanks will have to try and meet." Jonathan Bartlett added.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett meanwhile criticised the Prime Minister for refusing to rule out further cuts to disability benefits. Ms Bennett said: "David Cameron's speech suggested very strongly that the government is planning further cuts to disability benefits, specifically the Disability Living Allowance and the Personal Independence Payment, or the taxing of them. Either or both options would be indefensible. As the government's own website says, PIP ‘helps with some of the extra costs caused by long-term ill-health or a disability’."

Ms Bennett continued: "Our society and its structures (such as public transport and access to facilities) fail to adequately meet the needs of many disabled people, and the payment is a part recompense for this. David Cameron is right to say that we have to move away from Britain's low wage employment culture. But that can only be achieved by raising the minimum wage - simply cutting tax credits will only harm workers who will have no chance to make up the difference between the inadequate minimum wage and the living wage level that it should be set at."

Monday, 22 June 2015

Lib Dems: 2m people could lose the right to vote

The Liberal Democrats have called on the Government to rule out scrapping safeguards that could lead to two million people falling off the electoral roll. The last government, which the Lib Dems were a part of, introduced Individual Voter Registration, to put to an end the outdated system where a ‘head of household’ was responsible for everyone who votes at an address.

The move was backed up with £10m secured by the Lib Dem leader, and the then Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg to ensure people registered to vote under the new system. Crucially, the Liberal Democrats also secured a transition period where people would be eligible to vote until 2016 even if they were registered under the old system – an important safeguard that allowed time for people to understand and register on the new system.

The Lib Dems say the Tories insisted on a power for Ministers to be able to cut short the transition period at the end of 2015. But the Electoral Commission has said such a move risks seeing 1.9 million people fall off the electoral roll. The Commission recommends leaving the extended timetable, secured by Lib Dems, in place.

Liberal Democrat constitutional affairs spokesman, Paul Tyler said: "It's now clear that premature completion of the transition would drop nearly two million people off the register at the end of this year. These facts speak for themselves and show Liberal Democrats were right to insist on a long transition period to the new system. Ministers must now agree to let the transition takes its course, or face serious challenges to the legitimacy of the 2016 elections."